Extroverted Intuition (Ne) and image management (INTP/ INFP)

clarkExamining my inner terrain through personality models creates a sense of psychological control. On episode 0227- (Developing Intuition as a Co-Pilot) of the Personality Hacker Podcast, Antonia mentioned that while developing Extroverted Intuition (Ne), image-management should be seen as the enemy. Attempting to maintain an image is going to derail the growth of this function.

For psychological equilibrium, Joel and Antonia posit that the auxiliary or secondary process should be utilized in conjunction with the dominant function. However, because this process has the opposite orientation of the dominant function, it’s common for people to avoid spending much time within it and instead moving into the tertiary process, which has the same introverted/extroverted orientation as the dominant function. In my case, if the enemy to Ne is image management, could this be because its opposing function, Si, is concerned with sustaining an already established identity?

As an INTP or INFP, use of Ne can be scary because as we’re trying new things, we’re also examining our interpretive frameworks, and therefore adding or subtracting to/from an established identity, since our concept of self will shift along with the self-knowledge a new experience generates. A personal example: even though I have a lot of ideas and interests, I have trouble fully committing to one sustained project. If I never fully commit, I will never have to confront information that contradicts the self image I have already created. For instance, I’ve been attracted to theoretical, argument driven writing for the past three years, but with every essay I’ve written, I’ve experienced some level of resistance. This usually manifests as a long period of envisioning a project, meticulously planning something in my head while refraining from actually getting to work until I’m too close to the deadline to truly create something excellent. This is a form of self-sabotage used to avoid finding out things about myself that I don’t want to know. If I fully commit to a project and it fails, it is harder to defend myself because I know I put in as much effort as possible, yet still came up short. When considering my tendency towards image management, I also think of my resistance towards fully participating in social contexts that might actually make my life easier.  I can see the utility in creating a LinkedIn profile and attempting to get myself into an income-generating situation that accommodates my natural inclinations, but making myself available for public viewing makes me feel like I’m breaking down, rather than building, an identity. By putting my skills and experiences out for public viewing, I am burning through versions of myself instead of enjoying them as potential.  I’m thinking that Si is a comfortable zone of potential that we as INTPs or INFPs, want to lean into to avoid confronting the information the outer world might deliver. Full participation is threatening to the identity, and we are more conscious of our identities than any other types because we’re using introverted judging functions, bent on evaluative criteria (as opposed to the other introverted functions, Ni and Si, which are perceiving, information-gathering, rather than opinion-generating functions).

After moving from Rochester to Philadelphia, I believe that I’ve gotten a clearer sense for what it means to engage Ne. For a few months, my process of developing my auxiliary function was stunted by influence from my inferior function, which has a way of unconsciously squeezing itself into my motivations in distorted ways. When I thought about developing Ne, I often thought using it entailed approaching strangers and introducing myself with no context. This seemed possible, but not natural, and as a Ti dominant, it felt difficult to justify most of the time. I’m now thinking cold conversations with strangers could be a way of building skill in a function that is accessible but is not especially strong for me, (Fe) compared to engaging Ne, which seems to be more readily available for conscious access. Since August, I’ve been exploring new territory, and thinking that Ne is more of an objective information/theory generating function based around grappling and engaging with information presented by the outside world (particularly when paired with Ti). So this entails finding various ways of getting from one way to another using pattern recognition, and then developing a more thorough picture of the outside world as a consequence. In conversation this function manifests as a willingness to not only share my ideas, but to update them in the immediate context by asking questions and committing to understanding what is being said by another. Also, being willing to update my assumptions without clinging onto opinions I’ve already formed, and updating my concepts and ideas as a result. Ne seems less about always feeling great about encounters and more about being willing to get concepts about reality (Ti) on speaking terms with reality as it presents itself after sustained examination (Ne).

I am using the idea of image management as the enemy as a kind of litmus test for whether I’m stranded in the TI-Si loop and seeking to maintain old ideas and self-concepts, or utilizing my strongest function pair, Ti-Ne, to take the risk of updating my self-concept by engaging with novel and occasionally paradigm-threatening situations. Thoroughly honest conversation, new means of getting from one place or idea to another, and in short, gathering information about an environment through any means necessary.

at the very least, projecting

I began this post trying to walk through my psychology, attempting to think through some of the internal conflicts that have brought me down this week. This is an emergent of simply asking a question and seeing where it takes me. I’m interested in what it means to lay myself bear with no intention except to be self-revealing, and to explore my inner terrain. Maybe you will relate, or maybe this will be an exhibition of having an inferior feeling function. 

I want to build an inner foundation, or organize my experience around the elements of a “good” life– financial clarity, relationships, and engaging work. Relationships seem to be the element that cause the most suffering, though. I am sensitive to the idea that if I lose the people from my past, then as it currently stands, I have no relationships to rely upon. I somehow equate history with trust, and trust in relationships as a way of being comfortable within my life. These are problems I don’t like to admit. Although I strive to form new relationships, the potential for positive relations in the future is in some way dependent on the past. I’m fixated on the idea that if something goes wrong with the relationships I already have, then I’m less equipped to navigate current and future relationships. If previous entanglements suddenly break down, they were built on flawed assumptions, and this must be a sign that I’ve missed some critical information and therefore lack a strong perceptual system to lead me into the future.

But I also keep thinking, I am all I have. My relationships are always susceptible to abrupt endings because there is so little I know about the interiors of others. In the school of life video, “Why We Are Faded To Be Lonely” Alain de Botton discusses the idea that loneliness is an inevitable side effect of being a complex and sensitive human being. It’s unlikely we will meet someone EXACTLY like us, capable of anticipating our every need, and this sets us up for a low-grade, interminable sense of isolation, even if it seems to lessen in select instances. It is, of course, possible that an extraordinarily like-minded person could have passed us on the street yesterday, or that they currently live in Amsterdam and will die tomorrow, or maybe they were born in Prague in 1918, but due to the limitations of time and space, as well as the structure of daily life (i.e. the pervasive tendency to simply pretend we don’t see the people with whom we share trains, buses and library bathrooms) the likelihood that the people who could connect with us on the deepest possible level is not necessarily high. I am trying to build my own foundation. One built on relationships is going to be perpetually unstable, no matter how long they’ve existed or how seemingly trust worthy they are. All I ever have is my mind and its contents.

A main factor in my chronic loneliness is the constant search for subtext within social contexts, usually at the expense of immediate, concrete details. Although my focus on understanding the hidden thoughts and feelings of those around me occasionally helps me avoid conflict, most of the time it creates an excessive screening for how much of my authenticity is safe to reveal at any given instance. The question becomes- is it better to make predictions as to the thoughts of another and use this information to mitigate potential moments of disconnection? Or does it make sense to simply embrace authenticity, and assume that anything happens as a result is better than what happens on the basis of cautiously navigated falsehood? To put this another way: is it better to experience solitude as a side effect of having been authentic? Or to carefully assess how much authenticity will be within the bounds of acceptability and act from there? My sense is that if I know that I’m never going to fully understand anyone, and no one will ever fully understand me, it makes more sense to display what is actually within me. Even if none of my connections are ever satisfying on the deepest possible level, instances of connection that occur based on complete openness would likely satisfy more than those that are fractured and dulled by restraint.

people tend to head towards the future w their eyes on the rear-view mirror

If you took a random sample of my inner life, it would most likely reveal my constantly shifting from past to present to future on repeat. I am always considering how my personal past has got me to my present moment, and how the past and present are going to proceed into the future. in an endless loop.

Next week I am moving, by myself, to Philadelphia. This will be the first time I will be travelling five hours on my own, let alone staying in an unfamiliar place indefinitely. Even though this is something I’m excited about and have been actively considering since February 2017, I also occasionally experience moments of terror and alienation when I think about it. I have a bias towards reflection over action, (i.e. every time I make a judgment I spend the next 24 hours overturning it, wondering if I’ve made a mistake, considering how I can get myself out of it, etc.). So even though I can think of plenty of reasons why this is a good decision, I can also think of the myriad of ways in which it could entail disaster. This is partly because I’m not walking away from a place I’m eager to leave. My current living situation also involves friends that I value and would love to keep in my everyday life. even though I like the idea of expanding my worldview, I realize that it also comes with parting ways from people and places I love. The idea of walking away from a situation that feels advantageous evokes the fear that I am walking away from good things for reasons I’ll eventually regret. For example, I met a person over the last few months who I find attractive and interesting on a few different dimensions, and every time I think about previous fun we’ve had together I experience something resembling homesickness and alienation. Even if we remain friends, it’s likely that the structure of our lives will look radically different, and that by moving I’m leaving behind the current conditions of our relationship. I can imagine how that could be a good thing, yet I can’t help but mourn the loss of something I appreciate. Also, one of my dearest friends since age 14 lives here and leaving also likely means the end of an era. It’s not obvious that we will ever again live in the same place, and besides for occasional visits, moving essentially means, as far as the realities of day-to-day life are concerned, relegating the friendship to the past. Getting what I want on one level means being deprived of what I want on another.

However, I realize I am constantly projecting the fears of the present moment into what I conceive of as “The Future,” but in the present, how much do I really know about the future? Do I know enough to make educated inferences about how I will feel three weeks from now? It feels like paradigms shift constantly (cough, this website is called exiting a paradigm). Yes, I can look at set of conjectures about what it is likely to be, considering where I will be living and where I’ll be directing my attention, but when the future becomes an experiential fact, I will have been altered by events that in this present moment I have no concept for. Even though four months ago I could have sketched out guesses about what my life would be like today, I couldn’t have accounted for the qualitative character of my experience in the present no matter the accuracy of my assumptions about the concrete details of my projected life situation.

It’s possible that my concerns about leaving the people I care about exist right now because I am not certain that I will be moving into a welcoming environment. Or maybe I’m torn because acquaintances have been reminding me, since May, that I am leaving, (“oh, I thought you already left”). It’s like people are accounting for their lives without my presence before I can account for my life without theirs, since I don’t know who will be in my daily life this time next year. Even though I’ve previously been friends with a person who was moving, and I remember projecting this sense of superiority onto his experience (he could be moving into anything! how exciting!) now I know that leaving doesn’t provide any more security than staying. Or maybe it’s that excitement and security can’t exist simultaneously, (i.e. pick one) and excitement and nervousness exist within each other, kicking each other out of the forefront depending on the moment. But here is the thing (and the center point of this blog post)– I am projecting loneliness and alienation into my future without acknowledging I am experiencing it in the present! I am concerned about leaving my friends because the self I am in this moment, with my current knowledge and interests, flows nicely with these people. However, as the future approaches and I experience it as the present, the complexion of my mind is going to shift along with new knowledge and experience. It is possible that the experiences of the future will render these concerns irrelevant, not because I’ll stop caring about these people, but because my personality will expand in a way that will help me accommodate for the change in a way I currently cannot.

The idea that the concerns of the present masquerade as concerns of the future made me wonder if this logic could be extended into other dimensions. Whenever we worry about the future or the past, we are essentially concerned about the present, because the past and future depend on the conditions of the present. we remember our past and imagine our future based on the nature of our minds in the moment. Terrence McKenna said that that worry is essentially hubris. We assume that we have complete knowledge about the future and then we worry. If we were able to account for emerging possibilities to the same degree that we fear repeating the negative aspects of the past (or avoiding the worst case scenarios of the future) would we still worry?

Well, [clearing throat] Jordan Peterson recently said that discipline is a matter of being terrified about the right things. The moment in which you dodge a car accident, there is this flurry of panic and tension that emerges, even after you know you’ve avoided an accident. Of course, this experience is the subjective side of a flood of cortisol, but I am wondering if the anxiety in response to an obvious threat in the immediate environment is just an emergent property of a past event but a warning about the present, in the same way that my fear of being lonely in an unfamiliar place reflects my alienation in the place I’ve been intending to leave since I arrived. The stress response after avoiding the accident is the body’s way of reminding us of our fragility, of the need to watch ourselves more closely, and to realize the game can come to a halt at any moment, and just because you made it out alive this time doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a future. The present is just as threatening as the dangerous past or future. I am afraid I will be socially isolated in the place I’m planning to spend at least the next two years because I’m currently in a place where my friends are accounting for my leaving, where there is very little opportunity to play the role in society that I want, a place that I never planned on being anyway. Perhaps the fear is natural.

he who remains silent vigorously consents.

A performative contradiction refers to a statement whose presupposition contradicts its content. Sentences such as “I am dead” or “I am illiterate” or “I don’t speak English.” I can’t be dead, unable to read or write or speak English and proceed to make these claims. Even though the performative contradiction is a rhetorical principle, I am interested in its application to the realm of action. What if our actions can’t be distinguished from the cohesive state of our psyches, both its conscious and unconscious contents? Instead, our actions are inevitable extensions of the content of our psyches, which may or may not be available for our conscious viewing.

To illustrate what I mean—I usually think of myself as a vegetarian. I don’t eat meat because I am fearful of its potential health risks (though there seems to be conflicting evidence in this regard, so this explanation has lost some of its juice). BUT I am also fascinated by and have a tremendous amount of respect for consciousness, and I don’t think chickens and cows are any less conscious simply because they do not participate in language speaking or driving on freeways. (and here you might say something like yeah but they’re clearly not operating at the same level of sophistication as human beings. But if we’re respecting them only on the principle that they may be conscious, consciousness proceeds all the contents that inhabit it, including intelligence and competence, so this type of respect seems to arise prior to the fruits of a conscious agent).  And yet, I still eat mayonnaise occasionally, and sometimes I’ll eat cookies with eggs, and if I’m feeling especially unruly sometimes I’ll drink coffee with cream. You might think, well maybe these things are okay because animals were not killed in the process of creating these products. But if the natural course of their lives was re-negotiated by the human agenda this seems to be a disruption to their autonomy, and it seems like autonomy and consciousness are at least close to being indistinguishable.

Granted, it is possible that I am more susceptible to breaking my own principles than the average person, (only moderate in conscientiousness [58th percentile]) but my sense is that this sort of performative contradiction is more endemic to human experience than we collectively acknowledge. If there is a dis-junction between my stated values and my actions, then what if it’s not so much that my actions are out of alignment with my values, but that I don’t have a fully articulated set of values? Perhaps there are values that are operating beyond my conscious understanding that are manifesting in my behavior. For example– the person who smokes cigarettes and claims to value her life and her family. There is a way in which it is possible to smoke and still experience positive emotion that would contribute to a person’s will to live. But if the cigarette smoker knows that by breathing in these chemicals it is possible that one day she might be told she has a tumor pressing on her lung that has spread to her brain, can she (FULLY) acknowledge this possibility and value her life simultaneously? As Jordan Peterson articulated in his  8th rule: “Tell the truth; or at least, don’t lie” we only think we understand how a system works (in this case, the body) when it cooperates with us. Then the question becomes–what if my actions are always a perfect representation of my values, and it’s just that as an ego I am not, at any moment, fully aware of the constellation of desires and attributes and short comings which make up my psycho-dynamics. In short, there may be details of the unconscious that are unavailable for my speculation that result in my acting in specific ways. The implication here seems to be that when I conceptualize about myself, I only have access to a sliver of the relevant information. Of course, this was the news of psychoanalysis that we all embraced in the early 20th century, but the ego has a significant hold over daily thoughts and emotions, so it seems worth re-affirming: I as conscious witness am an amalgam of competing sub selves with their own set of desires and attitudes and emotional valences. It is possible that when I am stating my values, I am speaking for a single sub-self with desires that are split off from the version of me who sighs in resignation prior to taking a bite of a portobello mushroom sandwich with mayonnaise and cheese.

Most people do not acknowledge the parts of themselves that conflict with what mainstream culture deems acceptable. Darker thoughts that we might loosely associate with the shadow might occur because our status as members of the animal kingdom dictates that a certain level of aggression and resentment are necessary to getting what we want. What’s interesting about the kind of performative contradiction i’m describing is that it demonstrates not so much that the action is unrepresentative of the inner life but that our actions can emphasize some avenue of the psyche that has not yet been explored or acknowledged. Whenever people like me sit and articulate our values we’re only speaking from one of many autonomous selves. As Steven Pinker stated in The Blank Slate: the Modern Denial of Human Nature, “The self is a spin doctor not commander in chief.” The self can articulate a list of justifications for doing whatever suits its current purposes because it seems to be something like fleeting software that comes about depending on a person’s physiological climate. When I’m distracted and under nourished, a cold water and some indulgent food seems like the most obvious choice in the world, but when I’m feeling productive and caffeinated all I want to do is explore the world of articulating principles and figuring out what it would mean to stand beside them.

The things that get us in the most trouble—the drive for food and sex—arise from our instincts, and our interest in articulating values or creating blogs came at a much later time in the evolution of the species. Are the systems that evolved earlier are inherently more powerfully motivating than the ones that evolved later? If so, the performative contradiction I’ve been describing may be a fundamental human problem because we have these complex conceptualization skills but we’re still held hostage by the lower drives we share with other members of the animal kingdom. Maybe the performative contradiction is a problem that plagues most humans because it cuts to the core of our existential issues. We can conceptualize about our own death, but we’re still ultimately powerless in the state of our body’s eventual decay. In other words, we can learn as much as we can with our minds, but the mind is dependent upon the condition of the body. Therefore, in these smaller moments of choosing between sticking w principles and playing around w what it is like to be a body, the probability that we’re going to make the less enlightened decision is high.